Analysis from Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made many surprising choices when assigning cabinet posts to members of his Likud party, but perhaps none more so than Tzipi Hotovely’s appointment as deputy foreign minister.

First, she’s a novice who has never held any executive branch position before, yet will now exercise de facto control over one of the cabinet’s most important ministries. Technically, she serves under Netanyahu, who retained the foreign affairs portfolio for himself. But since Netanyahu already has a full-time job as prime minister, she will largely run the ministry.

Second, she’s one of the most hawkish members of Netanyahu’s coalition and an outspoken opponent of Palestinian statehood. As The Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, put it, “Hotovely represents the opposite of everything much of the world…wants to see in Israel.”

Third, in contrast to appointees like Miri Regev or Haim Katz, whose power bases within Likud were simply too strong for Netanyahu to ignore, Hotovely’s support inside the party is tenuous; in the last primary, she barely scraped into the 20th slot. Nor is she known as one of the premier’s own loyalists. Thus he was under no political compulsion to reward her with such a lofty post.

Finally, there were plenty of other candidates who would seemingly have been more suitable, including the one many American Jews undoubtedly hoped to see there: former ambassador to Washington and current Kulanu MK Michael Oren.

Indeed, Hotovely’s main qualification for the post – aside from being pretty, personable and reportedly speaking excellent English – would seem to be that she constitutes no threat to Netanyahu, who notoriously squelches anyone he does consider a potential political threat. That’s why so many ambitious Likudniks eventually quit the party to run their own parties (see Moshe Kahlon, Naftali Bennett and Avigdor Liberman).

Nevertheless, Hotovely could end up being an excellent choice, for the same reason I thought the indisputably talented Oren would actually be a bad one: In my view, the ministry’s main focus right now should be the vast stretch of the world outside North America and Europe.

For decades, the Foreign Ministry has focused almost exclusively on the West, for very good reason: The West was Israel’s main source of both trade and diplomatic support.

But in recent years, the second half of that equation has been changing. As evidence, consider last December’s United Nations Security Council vote on a resolution to recognize a Palestinian state despite the absence of a peace agreement. America and Australia voted against, while Britain and Lithuania abstained. But two of Israel’s other European “allies,” France and Luxembourg, voted in favor; it was three non-European countries – Rwanda, Nigeria and South Korea – that provided the final crucial abstentions which deprived the resolution of the nine votes needed for passage. In other words, while Europe split evenly on the vote, the African delegates split 2-1 in Israel’s favor (Chad voted for recognition).

Granted, the comparison is somewhat unfair – Rwanda and Nigeria are two of Israel’s best friends in Africa. Nevertheless, the fact remains that many countries in Africa, Asia and even South America have no particular grievances against Israel. Thus with diplomatic effort, it might be possible to persuade them to support Israel in critical venues like the Security Council.

In contrast, much of Europe is rapidly becoming viscerally anti-Israel – and no amount of diplomatic effort is going to change that. Effective diplomacy can sometimes alter a country’s rational calculations, but it can’t do anything to mitigate irrational hatred. And Europe’s hatred for Israel is utterly irrational; there’s no other way to describe an emotion that sent hundreds of thousands of Europeans into the streets to denounce Israel over a war in Gaza that killed 2,000 people and affected Europe not at all, but brings zero people into the streets to protest a war in Syria that has killed 200,000 people and deluged Europe with unwanted refugees.

Thus a deputy minister who maintained the ministry’s traditional westward focus would inevitably end up wasting much of his own and his diplomats’ time and resources. And Israel needs new friends too, in order to not waste another four years banging its head against a European wall.

Yet Oren, by instinct and training, would have done exactly that; he has repeatedly declared Israel’s eroding position in the West to be his primary concern. Even worse, he belongs to the school which holds that in an attempt to buy the love of Western liberals, Israel should endanger its own security by unilaterally withdrawing from much of the West Bank. Thus not only would he likely have misdirected the ministry’s resources, but, like too many other Israeli diplomats, he might also have ended up undermining Israel’s diplomatic position still further by serving as an outspoken advocate of greater Israeli appeasement.

Hotovely, in contrast, has no such instincts or training; she’s part of a generation and a community (hawkish religious Zionists) that have no illusions about Europe’s attitude toward Israel. Consequently, she might be open to the idea of focusing her ministry’s energies in more promising directions. Indeed, Europe’s demonstrative coolness toward her will push her to do so, since the alternative will be doing nothing.

It’s true that Europe remains Israel’s largest trading partner, and as such, requires some attention. But that trade is a bilateral interest, and has consequently continued growing despite the increasingly vociferous anti-Israel boycott movement.

It’s also true that Washington’s diplomatic support remains crucial. Yet for better or for worse, relations with Washington have always been handled by the Prime Minister’s Office; no deputy or even full-time foreign minister would have been given responsibility for America.

In contrast, Netanyahu has neither time nor energy to spend “cultivating…ties with Kazakhstan, Angola and Colombia” (to quote Keinon again). That leaves his deputy free to do so without fear of stepping on his toes – something that could easily happen with a deputy focused on countries the premier actually cares about.

Hotovely would win little public acclaim by focusing on Africa, Asia and South America, but she would do a great service to her country. And by so doing, she would prove herself worthy of her lofty position after all.

Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on May 19, 2015

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Finally, a peace plan that takes Resolution 242 seriously

Ever since the Trump administration published its Mideast peace plan, critics have vociferously claimed that it “violates U.N. resolutions” and “challenges many of the internationally agreed parameters” guiding peacemaking since 1967. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, this is the first plan that actually relates seriously to the document every plan cites as the basis for those parameters: U.N. Security Council Resolution 242.

The resolution was adopted in November 1967, five months after Israel captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, eastern Jerusalem and Sinai Peninsula in the Six-Day War. But contrary to popular belief, it was carefully crafted to let Israel keep some of this territory by demanding a withdrawal only from “territories occupied in the recent conflict,” rather than “the territories” or “all the territories.”

As America’s then U.N. ambassador, Arthur Goldberg, later said, the omitted words “were not accidental … the resolution speaks of withdrawal from occupied territories without defining the extent of withdrawal.” Lord Caradon, the British ambassador to the United Nations who drafted the resolution, explained, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”

The reason was that, in the resolution’s own words, a “just and lasting peace” would require “secure and recognized boundaries” for all states in the region. But the 1967 lines (aka the 1949 armistice lines) did not and could not provide secure boundaries for Israel. As Goldberg explained, the resolution called for “less than a complete withdrawal of Israeli forces” precisely because “Israel’s prior frontiers had proved to be notably insecure.” And since Israel had captured these territories in a defensive rather than offensive war, the drafters considered such territorial changes fully compatible with the resolution’s preamble “emphasizing the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

But then, having successfully defeated the Arab/Soviet demand that Israel be required to cede “all the territories,” America abandoned its hard-won achievement just two years later, when it proposed the Rogers Plan. That plan called for an Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 lines with only minor adjustments (since nobody back then envisioned a Palestinian state, the West Bank would have returned to Jordan, even though Jordan had illegally occupied it in 1948).

This formula made a mockery of Resolution 242 because it failed to provide Israel with “secure boundaries.” Yet almost every subsequent proposal retained the idea of the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, even as all of them continued paying lip service to 242.

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